Category Archives: St Joseph

The Act of Dying

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I, personally, feel very privileged.  I got to brush the teeth of both my parents prior to their passing.  I was present for my mother’s passing, but not my father’s.  They were in Florida.  By that time, I had had to return to Illinois.  I kissed my father on the forehead, the last time I saw him.  An infection of his prevented the lips, and besides, fathers and their sons never kiss on the lips?  Right, men?  So, the forehead as he lay in his deathbed at the nursing home, seemed most appropriate.  Most.  Still does.  Still does.  His final words to me were, predictably, “Take care of yourself.”  This was not a glib adieu.  When he said these words, then, I knew, they always had profound meaning.  I have learned even more since.

I encountered hospice eight weeks later when my mother passed.  Everything hospice told would happen did.  A peaceful passing requires resolution.  All her children gathered.  Though she could no longer respond, we said prayers around her bed.  We each told her in our turn all was well, and so would we be, and that it was ok, it’s ok to go.  And, she did.  Peacefully.  Praise Him.

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-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP (Br Thomas received his PhD in Physics from Stanford prior to joining the Order.)

“I had never heard the phrase until I spent some time visiting a hospice center, and it always struck me as incongruous. While everyone in their care was dying from one thing or another, they referred to patients who had shifted from slow and steady decline to the stage where the body starts to shut down as “actively dying.”

Unlike a normal hospital, the hospice rooms had no monitors steadily tolling the patient’s heartbeat or screaming for attention when vital signs change, so the evidence of this new phase varied – perhaps a particular weakening of the breath, a lack of blood flow to extremities, or an inability to keep the patient conscious. This stage could still last for days, and the more I witnessed such a decline the more this “active” part of dying seemed oddly named.

In a certain sense, all death is passive. It comes about when the human body can no longer fulfill its life-sustaining functions because of disease, trauma, or simple weakness. Unlike the acts of speaking or running or jumping, the hospice patient’s “active” dying is something that happens to him, not something he does.

We cannot simply will our body to stop functioning in the way we can will to raise our right hand. The truly human acts related to dying are always indirect. For good or for ill, they are only preparatory for a moment that we never fully control.

This thought struck me profoundly on my last visit to Fr. William Augustine Wallace, O.P. I had visited Fr. Wallace many times over the last four years, but by the time I first met him his Alzheimer’s had limited us to nothing more than a superficial conversation. There was a certain passivity on his part in all of our interactions, usually involving me saying something to get some response from him. Just walking into his room always drew a smile, and I would bring up his time in the Navy, his time as a priest, his teaching, or his work in natural philosophy, hoping to get a look of recognition and a few words, which usually trailed off incomplete. Early on I could ask for his blessing and he would gladly, if haltingly, oblige, but eventually I had to settle for leading him in the Our Father or a part of the Rosary.

A little over a week ago we got the news that he was declining – in hospice terms, actively dying. After compline, about ten of us brothers visited his room as he lay on the bed, eyes closed, breathing slowly, and clutching the rosary that one of the sisters had placed in his hands. He had already received the Anointing of the Sick, so a priest prayed aloud the Commendation for the Dying. He spoke loudly so that Fr. Wallace might still hear him, but I noticed no signs of recognition.

After singing the Salve Regina, we decided to pray a decade of the rosary. None of us who were there could claim to have been his friend, or even to have known him much at all, but I remember thinking that I would like to stay with him overnight, hoping that at least one of his brethren could be with him in case he did not make it until morning. By the end of the decade the slow breathing had stopped. Fr. Wallace had died surrounded by ten of his Dominican brethren praying the Rosary.

Given the passive and reactive nature of our interactions over the years it is hard to imagine that he was actively holding off the physical shutdown of his body for some particular moment like this. It was truly a beautiful moment of Divine Providence. A moment hours, days, even years in the making, most of it out of his or anyone’s control. Still, Fr. Wallace’s decline over the years was simply a longer, drawn out version of what leads up to any death. We can never really be sure when death will come or whether we will truly have the time or the power to prepare ourselves when it becomes unavoidable.

The Church has always encouraged the faithful to reflect on, to pray about, and to prepare for our own death. This is not a morbid and depressing suggestion but a humble recognition that we will all face death and that the way we face it has serious consequences. Further, the Church encourages us not to take on this task alone but to draw on the support of our fellow Christians and, most especially, the saints. They have gone before us through death to eternal life, and we can trust that they will act on our behalf even when we cannot.

The last thing I remember Fr. Wallace doing before he was actively dying was faltering along as we prayed a decade of the Rosary, the same prayer we were praying the moment that he died, insistently calling upon the help of our Blessed Mother: Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

THE REASONS ST. JOSEPH IS THE PATRON OF THE DYING

There are three reasons why St. Joseph is the special patron of the dying:

1) He is the foster father of the Eternal Judge, Who can refuse him no request.

2) He is terrible to the demons; the Church calls him the Terror of demons and Conqueror of Hell.

3) His own death was most beautiful, for he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary; this is the principal reason why he is the patron of a happy death; the death of no other Saint was so happy, so glorious.

St. Francis de Sales was of the opinion that St. Joseph died of the love of God; St. Alphonsus Liguori considered this most reasonable.

PRAYERS FOR A HAPPY DEATH

O Glorious St. Joseph, behold I choose thee today for my special patron in life and at the hour of my death. Preserve and increase in me the spirit of prayer and fervor in the service of God. Remove far from me every kind of sin; obtain for me that my death may not come upon me unawares, but that I may have time to confess my sins sacramentally and to bewail them with a most perfect understanding and a most sincere and perfect contrition, in order that I may breathe forth my soul into the hands of Jesus and Mary. Amen

O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.

O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me all spiritual blessings through your foster Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, so that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer you my thanksgiving and homage.

O Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath.

St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for me.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Death: God’s Greatest Gift

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-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (Prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.”

— Fr. Edward T. Oakes, SJ (1948 – 2013)

What did he say? Death is a gift, even God’s greatest? Death is no stranger to superlatives, but they usually come in the negative form: death is the most terrible reality; death is the final enemy; death is the worst defeat. Because of this, death avoidance becomes a wellspring of activity in modern society: nursing homes and hospitals keep it at a safe distance from the home, and euphemisms are commonly deployed in its description. Is not the euthanasia movement an extreme form of this avoidance in its attempt to master death through free choice? If death must happen, I will decide exactly when and how it happens! Of course the avoidance of death is not limited to the modern condition. In his famous study, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes of its universal quality:

“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity – activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.”

Surely Fr. Oakes must be morbidly misinformed or manifestly mistaken, mustn’t he?

Well no, actually, although a distinction is desirable. It is not any old death that is the greatest gift, but a Christian death, a death given by God, which is the greatest gift. Why? Because in a Christian death one does not die alone; one dies with Christ. The Catechism puts it succinctly: “To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ” (1005). To be united with Christ fully, one must be united with Him in His death, and therefore in our own deaths. Death has a new dimension, a new character, thanks to Christ’s death. The Catechism goes on to quote St. Paul in this new definition of death:

“Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).“The saying is sure: if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him” (2 Tm 2:11). What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already “died with Christ” sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this “dying with Christ” and so completes our incorporation into Him in his redeeming act. (1010)”

This Summer I have had the privilege of spending a month with the Dominican Sisters at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, NY. The sisters here, part of a congregation founded by Rose Hawthorne (Mother Mary Alphonsa), the daughter of American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, work day and night to assist cancer patients in just such a “dying with Christ.” Unlike many hospices that offer a kind of palliative care that involves the refusal of suffering and the denial of death, the sisters here offer truly passionate care: the suffering-with of compassion and the acceptance of death with Christ through his passion.

Death is not covered up or ignored at Hawthorne; patients are here to die well, to die with and in Christ. It is an incredible grace and truly a gift to die with the sisters; I can attest to this because of my experiences with both patients and their families. As one family member said: “This place is the closest thing to heaven on earth.” Those gifted enough to come to Rosary Hill are taught to die well, to die with Christ, to die with love and grace. Truly what a gift!

Unfortunately, not everyone can die in the care of the Hawthorne Dominicans (Young ladies, you can change this: vocations). And yet we all face death, the final enemy and proper punishment for our sins. Thankfully, like the patients at Rosary Hill, the Church has not left us alone in this serious task of dying well; she gives us daily numerous ways of preparing well. One way is to ask for a holy death every time we see a crucifix in our house (You don’t have one? Why not?) or Church. There are also excellent works dedicated to living well by thinking about dying well, both traditional (Dominican and Jesuit) as well as contemporary (written by a friend of mine). And of course we pray for such a holy death, through the intercession of Mary, at least fifty times a day in the rosary (You don’t pray the rosary every day? Really?). The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of death (CCC 1114). After all, if this life is to be a sequela Christi, a following of Christ, one must follow Him to death and through death. Christ’s call to each disciple “to deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Lk 9:23) finds new meaning and resonance in this daily reflection and preparation for death.

To die with Christ is truly a gift, a gift that may be the greatest because it is the way to unite ourselves with Christ. Christ offers us the gift of His death and we offer ourselves united to Him through our own deaths as our final thanksgiving for all He has done. While not all of us will have the gift of dying with the Hawthorne Dominicans, we can all experience a hint of their charism with the help of the Church. And of course our death is not the final word, for the gift of death contains also the gift of the Resurrection.”

Good St Joseph!!  Patron of a Good Death, pray for us!!  Take us by the hand at that final moment and guide us to thy Divine Foster-Son!!  That we may rejoice with the Blessed forever!!!

Love,
Matthew

St Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Cuzco School St Joseph

-Cuzco School, Peru, “Saint Joseph and the Christ Child”, late 17th-18th century. Oil on canvas, 43 x 32 1/8in. (109.2 x 81.6cm), Brooklyn Museum

In the Litany of St Joseph, one the titles of honor given to him is Terror of Demons.  Due to his unshakeable faith, his assiduous perseverance, his admirable purity and his exceptional humility, and given the nobility and grandeur of his vocation – the protection, sustenance and care of the Blessed Mother and Our Lord Jesus Christ, as head of the Holy Family – we can expect that God also endowed him with an equally proportional grace to carry out such a lofty mission in life. And certainly we can picture him as a sublime icon of manliness and a pillar of strength that would sow terrible fear among the powers of darkness given his noble task.  Would God allow/accept anything less for the earthly foster-father of His Son?

In Catholic iconography, St Joseph is pictured holding a staff from which a white lily grows.  This is due to Catholic hagiography which states from reliable, albeit non-scriptural, sources near to the period, when the holy priest Simeon gathered all the young men of Jerusalem from the house of David at the temple to choose who would be the rightful spouse of Our Lady, he was inspired by God to give each man a dry rod. After a period of prayer asking for the manifestation of the Divine Will, pure white lilies – the symbol of purity – blossomed from St. Joseph’s staff and a white dove, most pure and brilliant, hovered over his head giving Simeon the sign that he was the chosen one.

Hence, St. Joseph is the epitome of a pure man: pure in thought, pure in heart; pure in body and soul – destined to be the most chaste spouse of Mary Most Holy conceived without sin. In face of such sublime purity and holiness, it would not be farfetched to believe that the ugly, filthy infernal spirits would cower in petrified fear in his presence.

I have a special intention I am entrusting to St Joseph, in addition to so much I have already entrusted to him.  Pray for me!  St Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

Feast of the Holy Family

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-“Christ Discovered in the Temple”, 1342, Simone Martini, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK, this is my most FAV pic of the Holy Family!!!!  Ain’t NOBODY happy here!!!!  🙂

With all the debate and pronouncements regarding the modern “definitions” of marriage & family, moral theology issues, etc., in my bewilderment and dismay, the only comfort I have found, the only thing that brings peace and makes sense, is to deepen my devotion to the Holy Family.  Join me, please.

(The morning offering prayer is a traditional Catholic prayer, this one adapted for fathers.)

Morning Offering Prayer of a Father:

“O My Jesus, I offer this day to You…
All my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings…
And, through You, I make this offering to our Father in heaven.

Be with me through this whole day in all its particulars,
And assist me that it may become a worthy offering in every way.

Be close to me in all I think and say and do.
Direct Your Spirit to speak to me…
And help me listen attentively when He does speak…

So that, in my response,
Your thoughts may become more surely my thoughts,
And Your ways may become my ways;
So that my judgments may accord with Your judgments,
And that the sentiments of my heart may be most like Your own Most Sacred Heart;

So that my conversation with others
May be the conversation I may ask You to share with us,
And that my works may be works I ask You to approve.

Help me to have the practical wisdom to look to Your Mother
From time to time throughout the day
And invite her to pray with me –
Realizing her concern that I be in all things faithful to You
And that Your graces be fruitful in me
To form me after the perfect fatherhood of God.

May I know the continued grace to work with You in all I do,
And not merely for You…
So that my day may become a perfect offering…

Lived with You and in You and through You,
To be presented to our Father in joy and love.

Amen.”

Good St Joseph, Head of the Holy Family, Patron of Husbands and of Fathers, Faithful Servant, Entrusted Guardian & Protector of our Lord: I, too, have been highly favored and blessed, entrusted with the care of soul and body of this Daughter of God as my life’s vocation.  With you as my exemplar, ask your foster Son to grant me the graces always to faithfully fulfill my Christian duty as a husband and father until my own death.

O, Good St Joseph, in thanksgiving and rejoicing for this great joy and honor God has bestowed upon me – to participate with Him as co-Creator of Life, I beg you to come to my assistance and pray for me!  Be my constant advocate before the Throne of God in all my necessities and trials!  Amen.

Collect: O God, Who were pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family, graciously grant that we may imitate them in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity, and so, in the joy of Your house, delight one day in eternal rewards. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Pray for us!

Love,
Matthew, Kelly & Mara

The Fifth Joyful Mystery – Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple & Family Life!

Recently, our dear friends Victoria & Dennis were married and paid me the deep compliment of having a noticeable role in their nuptials.  I could not be more humbled and flattered.  As a thank you, Victoria & Dennis sent Kelly and I a lovely box set of cards, each one depicting one of the mysteries of the Rosary.  You may recall we are all in a monthly rosary group here in the city (Chicago).

My most favorite card is for the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary – Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple.  When I looked at the artwork of Simone Martini (1284-1344), I loved it!  Nobody is happy in this picture!  Mary’s not happy.  Joseph’s not happy.  Jesus is not happy.

We have the benefit of knowledge of events before and after this time and can safely know there is still love.  Not so much the love that feels good, although we can be sure there is some of that too, as part of the human experience, but the love both of parents for child and savior for the world. The love which sacrifices all for the explicit benefit of the beloved.

BXVI’s first encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” – “God is Love” clearly illustrates the contrast between the radically different definitions of the word “love” that  God and the Church means, and the WIFM – “What’s in it for Me”, this better make me feel good/better than I already do love secular culture so casually and indiscriminately throws around.  Same word – two VERY different meanings.  As “Deus Caritas Est” attempts to point out, and what Kelly and I try to keep as the theme when we facilitate pre-cana, “Love is more than a feeling.”

Family life is NOT EASY.  Kelly and I are about to embark on that journey (marriage, April 8, 2006) so many married saints (and I mean that most liberally in relation to the technical definition) have travelled before.  To imagine there will not be crosses, is to deceive oneself.  To mean and to say “Thy will be done!  Thy Kingdom come!” is to trust, profoundly.  As always, we ask for and are grateful for your prayers, your love, and your friendship.

I loved this painting and, once again, thought I would tempt fate in sharing it with you.

Love,
Matthew

Mar 19 – Solemnity of St Joseph: O felicem virum! O happy man!

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O FELICEM virum, beatum Ioseph, cui datum est Deum, quem multi reges voluerunt videre et non viderunt, audire et non audierunt, non solum videre et audire, sed portare, deosculari, vestire et custodire!

V. Ora pro nobis, beate Ioseph.
R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

DEUS, qui dedisti nobis regale sacerdotium: praesta, quaesumus; ut, sicut beatus Ioseph unigenitum Filium tuum, natum ex Maria Virgine, suis manibus reverenter tractare meruit et portare, ita nos facias cum cordis munditia et operis innocentia tuis sanctis altaribus deservire, ut sacrosanctum Filii tui Corpus et Sanguinem hodie digne sumamus, et in futuro saeculo praemium habere mereamur aeternum. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum.
Amen.

O BLESSED Joseph, happy man, to whom it was given not only to see and to hear that God Whom many kings longed to see, and saw not, to hear, and heard not; but also to carry Him in your arms, to embrace Him, to clothe Him, and guard and defend Him.

V. Pray for us, O Blessed Joseph.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ
O GOD, Who has given us a royal priesthood, we beseech You, that as Blessed Joseph was found worthy to touch with his hands, and to bear in his arms, Your only-begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary, so may we be made fit, by cleanness of heart and blamelessness of life, to minister at Your holy altar; may we, this day, with reverent devotion partake of the Sacred Body and Blood of Your Only-begotten Son, and may we in the world to come be accounted worthy of receiving an ever-lasting reward. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Father’s Prayer

Father in Heaven,
I thank you for the gift of my family
for whom I now pray
and upon whom I now ask you
to shower Your blessings.
With St. Joseph as my guide,
may I always be ready
to spend my life for them.

Bless my wife whom You have given to me as my spouse,
sharing in your wondrous work of creation.  May I see her as my equal and treat her with the love of Christ for his Church.  May Mary be her guide and help her to find Your peace and Your grace.

Bless my children with Your life and presence.  May the example of Your Son be the foundation upon which their lives are built, that the Gospel may always be their hope and support.

I ask you, Father, to protect and bless my family.  Watch over it so that in the strength of Your love its members may enjoy prosperity,
possess the gift of your peace and, as the Church alive in this home,
always bear witness to Your glory in the world.  Amen.

Saint Joseph, guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, you passed your life in loving fulfillment of duty. You supported the holy family of Nazareth with the work of your hands. Kindly protect those who trustingly come to you. You know their aspirations, their hardships, their hopes. They look to you because they know you will understand and protect them. You too knew trial, labor and weariness. But amid the worries of material life, your soul was full of deep peace and sang out in true joy through intimacy with God’s Son entrusted to you and with Mary, his tender Mother.  Assure those you protect that they do not labor alone. Teach them to find Jesus near them and to watch over Him faithfully as you have done. Amen.
-Bl Pope John XXIII

Glorious St Joseph, Foster Father of our Lord, pray for fathers!

Love,
Matthew